• Akt;
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor;
  • calcium;
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase;
  • phosphoinositide 3-kinase;
  • synaptic plasticity


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mediates survival and neuroplasticity through the activation of phosphoinositide 3-kinase-Akt pathway. Although previous studies suggested the roles of mitogen-activated protein kinase, phospholipase C-γ-mediated intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i) increase, and extracellular calcium influx in regulating Akt activation, the cellular mechanisms are largely unknown. We demonstrated that sub-nanomolar BDNF significantly induced Akt activation in developing cortical neurons. The TrkB-dependent Akt phosphorylation at S473 and T308 required only phosphoinositide 3-kinase, but not phospholipase C and mitogen-activated protein kinase activity. Blocking NMDA receptors, L-type voltage-gated calcium channels, and chelating extracellular calcium by EGTA failed to block BDNF-induced Akt phosphorylation. In contrast, chelating [Ca2+]i by 1,2-bis(o-aminophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N ′,N ′-tetraacetic acid-acetoxymethyl ester (BAPTA-AM) abolished Akt phosphorylation. Interestingly, sub-nanomolar BDNF did not stimulate [Ca2+]i increase under our culture conditions. Together with that NMDA- and membrane depolarization-induced [Ca2+]i increase did not activate Akt, we conclude that the basal level of [Ca2+]i gates BDNF function. Furthermore, inhibiting calmodulin by W13 suppressed Akt phosphorylation. On the other hand, inhibition of protein phosphatase 1 by okadaic acid and tautomycin rescued Akt phosphorylation in BAPTA-AM and W13-treated neurons. We further demonstrated that the phosphorylation of phosphoinositide-dependent kinase-1 did not correlate with Akt phosphorylation at T308. Our results suggested novel roles of basal [Ca2+]i, rather than activity-induced calcium elevation, in BDNF-Akt signaling.